Three Buckets Exercise

The principles of “ThisIsNotThat” denote more than just theories or explanations about language — they also require practice, actual doing or behaving to get a non-verbal ‘feel’ for your evaluations.

These exercises may enable you to become self-aware of your attitudes and behaviors, and possibly lead to changes in the way you evaluate and react to your environment.

If you have access to three buckets or large bowls, water and five minutes, you can gain some insights to the relative nature of your conditioning by doing this exercise.

Put cold water in one bucket, or bowl, placed to your left, comfortably hot water (not scalding – no lawsuits, please!) in a bowl to your right, and lukewarm (“just right”) water in a middle bowl. Place your left hand in the cold water and your right hand in the comfortably hot water. Keep them (your hands) submerged in the water for about a minute. Then pick them up (still talking about your hands now) and place them both in the middle bowl.

What do your senses tell you about the water temperature in the middle bowl?

You’re probably sharp enough to speculate what happens. (But come on, go ahead and do it for yourself anyway.) Your left hand, conditioned by the cold water, tells you that the middle water is “warmer”; while your right hand, conditioned by the comfortably hot water tells you the middle water is “cooler”. You have only one stimulus – the middle bowl of water – but you have two different sensory responses. Which one is “right”?

Just like the left and right hands in the experiment, we are each ‘conditioned’ by our past. Each of us has lived through our own unique, no-two-the-same life experiences. To every new situation or experience, we bring our own unique perspectives and attitudes resulting from our past experiences. We therefore can’t help but experience each situation uniquely from anyone else. If we fail to recognize this – if we expect others to see or feel or smell or otherwise experience something exactly the same as we do – then we forget the lesson of the three water buckets:

  • This (warmer water to the left hand) is not that (cooler water to the right hand); or
  • This (high school experience of a student from Harwood Junior High) is not that (high school experience of a student from Euless Junior High);
  • This (what I find “pretty”) is not that (what you find “ugly”).
  • This (what I find “funny”) is not that (what you find “revolting”).
  • This (what I find “offensive”) is not that (what you find “satirical”).
  • Etc.